Although it is true that foundations – like any other human institution – need watchdogs to assure good governance, civil society organizations might not always be the best choice to perform this role. As Rick Cohen and David Emerson acknowledge, these watchdogs come from the same sector as the foundations, from whom they receive their funding.
Depending on the culture, this watchdog role might be better played by an organization from a different sector. In Brazil, and in some other Latin American countries, the main approach has been to advocate for better media coverage of philanthropy and civil society issues. This is done through research, training programmes, prizes for best practices, and networks of journalists – such as the one created by the Ethos Institute on corporate social responsibility.
At GIFE, the Brazilian association of private foundations, we hold an annual Communication Workshop on Private Social Investment, in which on average 70 participants discuss how to improve public information, and sometimes produce collective documents. This involves communication officers of foundations and NGOs, mass media journalists, and specialists – like the Alliance professionals.
Publications, pages and columns dedicated to philanthropy, NGOs and business social and environmental activities are becoming more frequent in Latin American media, owing to this kind of practice and, in historical terms, owing to the increasing political and economic relevance of civil society.
Only exceptionally can a grantmakers’ association criticize a member publicly. In general, this would hinder the fundamental trust relationship it relies on. But there are many other channels to express what one thinks is right or wrong in the workings of civil society organizations, including foundations.
Secretary General, GIFE, Brazil